|Gazing up at the Khoo Khongsi's Upper Level|
My family left Guangdong, China three generations ago. As a young man, my grandfather moved to the Philippines where he joined his uncle working at The University Club in Manila. More family members immigrated there, and the clan grew. They lived close to each other and relied on each other for support to survive the Japanese Occupation during World War II. After my parents married in Manila, they were the first in the family to move to the United States. Family members from the Philippines began to move to the USA, and some chose to live near my parents who could assist them in finding housing and jobs in this new country. We stick together. Now that I'm living in Malaysia, the great-grandson of the relative who first welcomed my own grandfather to the Philippines with a job is living in my Texas home and taking care of it for me. When we visit home, my kids get to play with their young 4th cousins with whom they share a great-great-great-grandparent.
When the Chinese began immigrating to Penang, they also gravitated towards their extended family, their clan, for support in this new land. Various clans had their own jetties reaching out over the straits, and families could build houses on them to live near their kin. The clans grew larger and built clanhouses (kongsi), modeled after the ones built in China, where they could gather and honor their ancestors.
|Khoo Kongsi, a magnificent example of Chinese architecture|
Standing in the square looking up at it, I am in awe by how ornate it is. It's actually less grand than the clanhouse which originally stood here. That one mysteriously burned down shortly after construction was completed in 1894, and the Khoos attributed it to wrathful gods angry that they had lavished so much on honoring their ancestors who were mere mortals.
Walls are decorated with sculpted tableaus. Pillars have elaborate carvings snaking up them from bottom to top. Bright lanterns hang down, and even the beams supporting the ceilings have scenes painted and carved into them.
|Veranda across the front of the clan temple|
Even the roof is amazing. It is said to weigh 25 to 50 tons. Large shields perch on top and are covered with scenes bearing such fine detail that you need either telescope or a camera with an excellent zoom in order to truly appreciate it. Dragons curl around the edges. Men hang off balconies waving at someone across a shophouse entrance. These are all made from meticulously arranged shards of broken ceramic bowls.
|Shields on the rooftop decorated with shards from ceramic bowls|
Faded paint on the carvings hint that this building was even more vibrant in its early days when both materials and craftsmen were shipped over from China to construct it. Finished in 1906, it was bombed during World War II and took years to restore. It is still in use by the Khoo clan today but is open to the general public.
|Cryng Monk statue at base of staircase leading to upper level. Happy Monk is on the other side.|
|Statue of Muslim man on lower level|
Three halls sit side-by-side across the top level of Khoo Khongsi. The Central Hall is the largest and most ornate. Like the outside, walls and ceilings are covered with decorations. It is dedicated to the patron saints of the Khoo family who are mortal warriors elevated to god status after defending China from northern invaders.
|Central Hall of Khoo Kongsi|
|Side view of Central Hall with ink frescoes of the 36 legendary heroes of Chinese mythology on the side wall|
|Joss sticks burn in front of the altar in Central Hall|
|Statues of Ong Soon and Tai Sai, the patron saints of the Khoo family, sit in the altar|
The room on the right is the Hall to the God of Prosperity. Gold-painted signboards display the achievements of various Khoo family members. Many list a university in far flung places such as Australia and the United Kingdom while others have gone on to become doctors of medicine, State Councillors, or Justices of the Peace. An altar sits at the back of the room, and once again, a carved table sits in front of it with burning incense sticks and offerings on it.
|Hall to the God of Prosperity|
The Ancestral Hall is on the left side. More congratulatory signs line the walls of this room, too. The altar holds tall, slim tablets inscribed with the name of beloved family members who have passed away. Honoring ancestors is a key part of filial piety.
A breezeway stretches across the back of the Khoo Kongsi's upper level. Its soothing, blue walls offer a respite from the stimulating golds, reds, and blacks of the rooms I've just explored. Seven ink murals decorate the walls and are just as artistic as the rest of the building. They are original to the building and are late Qing Dynasty works which are rare in this region. Hundred Sons and Thousand Grandsons epitomizes the Chinese wish for big families. A house filled with offspring is considered a blessing. It is also a wish for the Khoo clan to flourish since the number of offspring illustrates the power of the clan.
|Hundred Sons and Thousand Grandsons|
In Penang's UNESCO World Heritage Site, this beautiful clanhouse is not to be missed, in my opinion, if you want to explore classical Chinese architecture and art. (My kids do not fall into this category, so I visited while they were at school.) On the day I was there, very few visitors wandered around even though the streets outside were teeming with tourists riding trishaws and photographing street art.
IF YOU GO:
- Admission is RM10 for people ages 12 years and up. Children under 12 years are only RM1.
- Open 9AM to 5PM daily
- The last Saturday of every month is An Evening of Lights at Khoo Kongsi when it's open from 6 or 7PM until 10PM and admission is free. Cultural performances are put on in the square in front of the hall.
- See the website http://www.khookongsi.com.my for more information.
This post is part of the following Link Ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.